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The NPC’s lament

June 14, 2011

In the final installment of my trilogy on how Role Playing Games (RPG) can inform your writing I focus on Non Player Characters (NPC). Wait! Wait! Don’t run away! It’s only geek talk and it wants to be your friend. Simply put, think of NPCs as your Supporting Cast and references to Players as your readers and you’re good to go.

Trust me, I play Dungeons & Dragons.

Three Non-Player Characters are walking a cobbled path. The first to speak is plump and homely, a serving wench if you’re not very much mistaken.

Matron May:                   Our first demand must be the name itself. NPC. When has anything with the prefix ‘non’ been of worth?

At her side a generic goblin nods his head so viciously his pointy chin hammers his chest.

Goblin:                                 Non-exiztent!

Matron May:                    Exactly.

Goblin:                                 Perzona-non-gratiz.

Matron May:                    My point …

Goblin:                                 Nondezcript.

Matron:                               Yes, yes …

Goblin:                                 Non-participant obzerver.

Matron May:                    Okay, we get the point. (Turns to the hulking yellow Ogre Magi at her side) Who’s this guy, anyway?

Grimface:                            (shrugs) Don’t know. He never got a name.

Matron May:                     (throws hands in air) And does that not just typify the Storyteller’s off hand, casual, almost racist attitude to his supporting characters?

Goblin:                                 Razcist! Razcist!

Grimface:                            (whispering) He’s very excitable.

Matron May:                     As would you be if you were a nameless racial stereotype.

Goblin:                                 (points at himself) Cannon fodder.

Matron May:                     Yes, you are pumpkin.

Grimface:                            Well, surely not having a name makes getting killed easier. There’s no family to grieve. No long rambling eulogy at your funeral.

Matron May:                     But that’s precisely it. He wouldn’t be so easy to kill if he had a name, would he?

Grimface:                            Technically, he’d be exactly the same to kill. Goblins are kinda squishy.

Goblin:                                 Wha?

Grimface:                            And besides, if all the cannon fodder were named, fight scenes would read like oribitauries.

A tower appears in the not too distant distance.

Matron May:                     We’re nearly there, I need to practice the demands.

Grimface:                            Since when have NPCs made demands?

Matron May:                     SCIs!

Grimface:                            SC … what’s?

Matron May:                     Our first demand is to drop the derogatory phrase NPC and replace it with SCI: Supporting Cast Individuals.

Grimface:                            But we’re kinda individuals. The Storyteller  does try to give NPCs …

Matron May:                     SCIs!

Grimface:                            Okay, whatever. The Storyteller does try to give SCIs a little something extra to make each of us memorable. A pimple on the chin here, a funny walk there.

Goblin:                                Pneumonics!

Grimface and Matron May stop and fix the generic goblin with quizzical looks.

Matron May:                     Where did you learn that word?

Goblin belches and keeps walking. May and Grimface trot after him.

Matron May:                     We need to argue for a world of storytelling where ones proximity to the plot does not define the degree they are a real person.

Grimface:                            The Storyteller has to populate an entire world, you know.

Matron May:                     We are the world … we are the interface the players have with his world-building. It is through us they learn and understand his creation.

Grimface:                            I’m just saying it pays to be conscious of our place in the story. Not everyone is destined to be a lead character.

Matron May:                     (stops with hands on hips) Easy for you to say. You’re a recurring villain. You’ve got history with the players. Motivation. A back story! You even have a nickname.

Grimface:                            Don’t go there.

Goblin:                                 Grimface the Touchy!

Grimface:                            (flames jet from his nose) I said don’t go there! Dammit, I don’t know what you’re complaining about (jabs finger at May) You’re a recurring character too! You give the players succour!

Matron May:                     Just listen to yourself. Who even uses the word succour these days? And for the record I’m just a form of shorthand to indicate where an adventure begins and ends. I have no depths.

Grimface:                            ‘Cos you’re depths would the slow the plot down.

Matron May:                     Then people must come before plot.

Goblin:                                 Peoplez ‘snot plot! Peoplez ‘snot plot!

Grimface:                            Shut up you annoying little runt of a cliché!

Goblin:                                 I can haz depths too!

Grimface:                            The only depths you have are the ones the Storyteller gives you.

Goblin:                                 I haz dreams!

Grimface:                            Rubbish.

Goblin:                                 (looking hurt) I dreamz about opening a donkey sanctuary.

Matron May and Grimface with the quizzical looks again.

Goblin:                                 I iz pigeon ‘oled. (pouts and looks up at the tower which has inexplicably appeared before him. On the door a sign reads “Storyteller”)

Matron May:                     Look, I understand having ideas and writing them down must be hard work but all I’m asking for is a bit more … generosity. Okay, here goes. (knocks on door)

Voice from within:           Whose there?

Matron May:                     (clears throat) We are representatives of background characters everywhere! Allies, onlookers and adversaries demanding you take the time to define us properly. The Only-What-Is-Necessary-Approach has to go! We want complete stats, inventories, histories and individually tailored wardrobes. The man propping up the bar in the tavern deserves the same attention to detail as the romantic lead. The fleeting face in the crowd demands his family tree!

Voice from within:           Bloody nusiance NPCs always clamouring for attention.

Matron May:                         We refuse to be treated like second class citizens anymore!

Voice from within:           You ARE second class citizens.

Matron May:                         How dare …

Voice from within:           Oh, go away #amworldbuilding

The three NPC’s disappear in a puff of smoke. Nothing remains of any of them suggesting they never even remotely existed.

Voice from within:           Bloody NPCs when will they learn it’s never about them?

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3 Comments
  1. June 14, 2011 12:16 am

    This is why I love Write Anything. Great post on secondary characters.
    And great post within a post on “show don’t tell.” Very Nolan of you. ;)
    -Michael

  2. June 15, 2011 4:21 am

    nice one dude, well written. love the goblin!!!

  3. June 16, 2011 12:28 am

    I seriously hope you are podcasting this series – its been hysterical

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